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Social Stratification: is It a Good Or a Bad Thing

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What is social stratification? What is meant by a caste system vs. a class system, and what are some examples mentioned in the lecture? Describe the American class system and outline the characteristics of the different classes. Finally, discuss the purpose of social stratification — is it a good or a bad thing according to functionalists and conflict theorists? Why?

Social stratification is the naturally occurring separations within society. Stratification ranks individuals on many different grounds such as income or power. This creates a hierarchy of power in the society with many tiers of stratification. One major way of ranking individuals is called the caste system; in this system, one’s ascribed characteristics determine which caste you fall. This is prevalent in the Hindu society, as one’s deeds in their prior life determine which caste they will be reborn. If one were to live a bad life in their prior life, they would be reborn in a lower caste. If one were to live a good and holy life in their prior life, they would be reborn in an upper caste. A class system is the other major form of stratification. In this system, one is born into a class, however, through an individual’s own choices, they can move up or down into a new social class. An example of this would be a person who was born into poverty but would work hard throughout his or her life and become a lawyer. One starts in a low class but works their way up. This can work the opposite way as well. One may be born into a family of rich doctors; however, they may be not be a hard-working person and would fall several classes.

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In the American class system there are three distinct classes; these include the upper class, the middle class, and the lower class. The upper class consists of the top 5% of the total population, to be a part of the upper class; one must have a yearly income of at least $185,000. Ivy-League schools are characterized by this social class, as the upper class can they can afford it. In addition, the upper class normally live in private neighborhoods and can attend “upper class events”. The next class is the middle class, which consists of about 40% of the population. The middle class is further divided into two sub-classes, the first being the upper-middle class. This class has an income of roughly $100,000 to $180,000 per year, and the majority of this class is made of people with a college degree. Furthermore, two thirds of the children in this social class graduate college as well. The upper-middle class consists of mainly those with professional degrees such as doctors and lawyers. The middle class has an income ranging from $45,000 to $100,000 a year. This includes high school teachers and other blue-collar jobs. This class also contains many small business owners and skilled laborers. Unlike the upper-middle class, only about half of middle class children graduate college.

The working class consists of about 33% of the population. This is also known as the lower-middle class; and is characterized by a salary of about $25,000 to $45,000 per year, and usually having a working class jobs such as an auto-mechanic or an unskilled factory worker. A drawback of this class is there is a little chance to acquire wealth. Wealth is the money you accumulate after spending necessary money for living. Because of the lower income, children in this group tend not to go to college, as money is tighter in this class. The next tier of classes is the lower class, this encompasses 20% of the population. This is sometimes called the working poor, as the lower class works full time, but still doesn’t have enough money to live. Only about half of working class children finish high school! Without a high school diploma, the children of this class normally grow up to be lower class as well. Poverty is the last level of social class; those in this class do not have enough for living. 12.6% of the United States is in poverty. Two thirds of those in poverty are Caucasian, and a majority of those is single white women. This is called the feminization of poverty, as single mothers have a second mouth to feed other than their own.

Functionalists believe social classes can be a good thing within society, as without them, there is no competition to do better. Those in a lower class will strive to be better than they were. This is why there are more middle class than ever in the United States. Changing from one class to another called upward and downward mobility, depending on which way you go. In contrast, conflict theorist believe this is why there is class conflict, because as most members of society stay within the class at birth. You may have a different job in the same class, but you will still be within the same class your whole life. This process of changing jobs but staying within the same class is called horizontal mobility.

What is the difference between sex and gender? Are the differences between men and women biological or learned? Based on the lecture, discuss these issues as well as the gender inequalities that still exist today.

Sex is an ascribed characteristic that all people have. One may have either male or female sex organs and bodily structure. On the contrary, gender is the learned behavior one learns. One may have a sex of male and a gender of female, or vice-versa. This topic once again spurs up the nature nurture debate. Nature naturally makes females “motherly” however, the nurture side can make males act as a mother figure as well. This sparks a lot of disagreement between the two sides. This is a large deal within in politics as well, especially here in North Carolina with Amendment 1. One side sees that marriage should be natural, only between one man and one woman. The other side sees that marriage should be open and anyway can be with whoever they want, as some people are nurtured to be “different”

One of the main biological differences between males and females is body structure. Males are normally taller and more muscular, produce higher levels of testosterone, and brain activity. Males normally use the left hemisphere of their brain more than their right. This leads to higher mathematical skills and logic. On the other hand, females are normally shorter and have a larger waist than their male counterparts have, females also produce higher levels of estrogen, and normally use the right hemisphere more than their left. The right hemisphere of the brain is more artistic and creative than the left hemisphere, thus making females a more visual than a hands-on individual. Conversely, both male and females may be taught the role of the other. This is shown with “Tomboys”. These are young girls who exhibit male characteristics, such as wearing boys clothing and participating in more masculine activities such as physical sports.

Because gender plays such a large role in our society, gender inequality becomes a main concern. In America, males have always dominated over females, this is called a patriarchal society. Males are usually head of the household and women even take the males last name when they get married! There is even sex typing in business as well. Males are more likely to be managers or presidents while females are more likely to be doing secretarial work. Even the women that do become managers are paid less than their male co-workers. Lastly, women are not as active in politics in today’s society. There has yet to be a female president, and women only make up about 15% of Congress. This is a major disadvantage to women as they are not equally represented in politics. This is drastically different than a Hispanic society, as women are much more equal. In fact, Argentina has a woman president and a larger percentage of women in its legislative branch of government.

What is meant by Race and Ethnicity? What are the problems with defining an individual’s race or ethnic group? What is a minority group, according to the lecture? Outline the four ways majority groups can “deal” with minority groups in society (genocide, etc.) and what they mean. Finally, discuss the differences between prejudice and discrimination.

Race is the physical appearance of an individual. There are three main races that scientists classify humans, these include the caucasoids, mongoloid, and negroid. All of these have a distinct physical appearance that separates them from each other. Ethnicity based on the cultural groups one belongs to. The problem with trying to define one’s racial group is there are many exceptions to the rules. People of mixed races are hard to define as a race; also, you may not precisely know what race they are. With ethnicity, there are also many exceptions to the rules. One may look like they are from an ethnicity but in reality they are not. Saint Patrick’s Day is an example of this. Many people dress up in Irish clothing even if they are not Irish. Mardi Gras is another example, as people were beads to identify themselves during a French festival.

Race and ethnical backgrounds can be stratified just like social classes. In fact, race and ethnicity greatly define one’s social class. In addition, this stratification leads to stereotyping and other kinds of discrimination among racial groups. Stereotyping is the thought one has when they think of a specific race or ethnicity. This is not always bad though, as it is sometime true within a population. If you think of an Irish person, you generally think of Red Hair, albeit, not all Irish people have red hair, a large majority of them do. A dumb blonde is also a typical stereotype. Discrimination is the action of stereotyping. Stereotyping only occurs as a though, but if you put your thoughts into action then it becomes discrimination. Discrimination is not as prevalent in today’s society as it was years ago. The most remembered form of discrimination would be separate bathrooms for whites and blacks. Another example would be the poll taxes enacted shortly after the civil war. This would not allow the newly freed slaves to vote, as they did not have enough money to, while the richer white males easily had the funding to do so.

Because of discrimination, minority groups may form. These do not necessarily have to be the smallest in number, but rather the ones being discriminated against. There are for ways in which the majority groups deal with minority groups in society. The first being and most relentless way is genocide. This is the mass killing of a specific group of people. This is what Hitler did to the Jewish people. Stalin, being an allied power during WWII, committed more genocide than Hitler did. Stalin killed an estimated twenty million people, three times the six million Jews that Hitler had killed. The next tier of dealing with minorities is segregation. This is the separation of the majority and minority groups. Segregation includes separate schools and separate bathrooms like the United States had many years ago. The second lowest level is assimilation. This is the merging of the two cultures. However, this may not be good for minority groups, especially if they want to keep their cultural identity. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Abraham leads the Jews away to the Promised Land, as in Ur the Jews were being assimilated into the society. The last and least restrictive tier of dealing with minorities is pluralism. Pluralism is the harmony between the two groups. Minority groups still maintain their cultural identity and the majority group maintains peace and harmony with the minority group.


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